The number of adoptions in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level since 1997.
Charities yesterday blamed the relentless decline on excessive delays in adoption proceedings, which can take up to two and a half years from a child being taken into care to being confirmed in a permanent new home.
It is now estimated that 1,000 children a year never find an adoptive family. Last year, the number of adoptions fell to 4,472 – down 4 per cent compared with 2009 and to the lowest level since the current data was first gathered, according to the figures from the Office for National Statistics.
The continued fall in overall numbers mirrors a drop in the average age of adopted children, with 60 per cent of all successful placements now for children aged four or under.
Local authorities find that older children are much more difficult to place with parents, and that one in four eventually has their adoption plans changed because they are considered too old.
Concern over the decline is growing. This month, the Government appointed Martin Narey, the former head of Barnardo's, as its "adoption tsar", in a bid to stop children languishing in the care system.
Jeanne Kaniuk, head of adoption and permanent planning at the charity Coram, said the delays in placing children in care with adoptive parents were "outrageous".